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Sailing from Lisbon to Madeira

Updated: Nov 18, 2023

Our first view of Porto Santo, the first island in the Madeira group
Our first view of Porto Santo, the first island in the Madeira group

Sailing to a schedule is never a good idea. Whereas normally the wind dictates departure times, the lure of quality time with our children persuaded us to take the risk and commit to dates when we would be in Lisbon to meet our son Sean, before sailing on to Madeira where Ellen would join the boat.

Annick arrived in Galicia on September 4th with departure planned for early the next morning. With only 250nm distance to Lisbon and the seasonal northerly Portuguese trade winds, what could go wrong?

During our week in Galicia we had noticed how much colder the water had been compared to previous years. Was the Gulf stream further offshore than normal? Whatever the reason, the Portuguese northerlies did not exist. Instead, we were faced with unseasonal southerlies meaning we had to sail ‘uphill’ all the way. So the 250nm became circa 340nm as we had to tack (zig zag) our way south.

Unfortunately, the only real wind we saw on the way to Lisbon was on that first Monday. The rest of the week was spent slowly edging our way south tacking upwind in 5-10 knots. If you want a lesson in patience, perserverance and concentration, try an 80 hour sail to windward in light airs!Finally, in the early hours of Friday morning, we arrived in Cascais just outside Lisbon.

Sean arrived on Saturday and we had planned a couple of days sightseeing before a Monday departure for Madeira. Ellen would arrive in Funchal the following Sunday, As it is normally a 3-4 day sail we had a couple of days margin. But a Monday departure would have condemned us to another upwind sail – but this time into 35 knot winds. Instead we stayed an extra night in Cascais and I introduced the family to some of the Spanish card games I had learned the previous week.

By Tuesday lunchtime the wind was down to 20 knots, so we decided to go. The PredictWind weather routing proposed a 12 hour long starboard tack offshore (to get on the inside of the wind bend), followed by a tack onto port with the wind veering enough by 0200 to allow us to head directly to Madeira.

Predictwind weather routing as we left Lisbon
Predictwind weather routing as we left Lisbon

Over the next two two days it should continue to veer, bringing the wind behind us and even allowing Sean to experience Code0 and ‘Little Pinky’ our asymmetric.

That first sixteen hours to windward (20 knot winds, 3m waves) was a baptism of fire for Sean. As he lay on his bunk with his head in a bucket he probably questioned the definition of ‘ quality time with parents’! But the weather forecast was accurate and by Wednesday morning the boat was scooting along on a close reach in 12-15 knots of wind. Sean recovered and was soon up and about, no signs of sickness, even able to read his book below deck on the last day. By Friday morning the sun was out, Code0 was pulling us along at 8-9 knots and life was good.

Skytall using Code0 and enjoying a good breeze
Skytall using Code0 and enjoying a good breeze

Apart from the ever-reliable presence of seabirds, the first sign of life also came on the Friday. A turtle bobbed by us in the morning as we were setting up our trolling line, followed by a short visit from a small group of spinner dolphins. We made good time and early that evening we dropped anchor off Porto do Porto Santo (the first island in the Madeira group). After a good night’s sleep we completed the last ‘hop’ to Funchal where we await Ellen’s arrival.

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